March 2007

An interview with Bryan Vargas
by Craig Pady with photo by Roger Humbert
Bryan Vargas was in town recently playing a 2-night stand at Trane Studio (March 22 & 23, 2007). He was joined by his drummer Matt Baranello and Toronto musicians Nick Ali on trumpet, Sundar Viswanathan on alto saxophone and vocals, Reuben Esguerra on percussion and Tyler Emond on 6 string Bass.

We caught up with Bryan a few days before the gigs and here’s what was on his mind…

Craig Pady On your album cover you have chosen a close up of your guitar. Can you tell us about your guitar and why you chose to feature it on the cover?

Bryan Vargas Nice question! I’ll start off by giving you the tech-specs for the guitar players out there. It’s a 1970 Gibson ES 335 — Semi-Hollow-Body guitar, for the laymen out there it’s a bb-king style of guitar. I bought it when I was in College. It’s my best friend. I have a bunch of guitars but that’s really the one I perform and record with. The reason we featured it on the cover was that the graphic designer who designed the cover asked me “What are you trying to do with the music?” So it’s kind of a throw-back to the time when you had music that was fun and smart at the same time. We looked specifically toward the blue note era for the look and also at artists like Grant Green in particular. He was an artist that could play some mean bop but could also keep a party dancing all night.

CP I had to ask you that question as an avid record collector and self-professed jazz-junkie. When I’m looking for music I like to look for several ‘indicators’: The Artist / The Label / The Musicians / The Art Work. With your album, had I not known who you were or what you were up to, I would have picked it up based on the cover alone.

Bryan Vargas (Sept. 2006)
BV Cool, thank you, I’ll tell the artist!

CP How many guitars do you own?

BV I have 4 guitars but also have other instruments that are guitaresque if you will.

CP Such as?

BV I have what’s called a Quattro which is a Puerto Rican instrument that has 10 strings on it. Who knows why they call it a Quattro which means 4 in Spanish (laughing). It is the National Instrument of Puerto Rico. I also play an instrument called a Bajo Quinto which is basically a soprano guitar, a little smaller and tuned a lot higher than a normal guitar it’s used in ballads a lot, the Buena Vista Social Club is a good example of where you would have seen one before.

CP How did you get together with this band?

BV We are old friends. The trumpet player, Matt Hilgenberg, was my roommate in College. The conga player, Ernesto Abreu, is my right-hand-man. We’ve played together a lot on the New York scene along with saxophonist Topaz in various bands, including Antibalas.

The drummer Matt Baranello was at one of our gigs in the audience when we blew the sound system; and I mean blew the speakers right off the hinges. Not because of volume but perhaps more from the spirits we conjured up (laughing). I think he was impressed by that and he started hanging out with us and eventually became our drummer.

CP How did you get into Latin Jazz?

BV Oh, that’s a great question, people don’t usually ask that because they generally assume “oh well you’re Latin”. Yes Latin music was my parents' music but I grew up listening to whatever was popular in the 80s and 90s. Hip Hop, Alternative etc…

Eventually I got into jazz and became a Coltrane fanatic while I was still listening to Sonic Youth and Tribe Called Quest. You know, I discovered Ron Carter through Tribe!

Through jazz I started listening to Latin musicians. When I was around 19 or 20, in one weekend I picked up an Irakere CD, a Jerry Gonsalvez CD, and a Ray Baretto CD and I started listening to this music religiously and made the decision that this was the style of music I wanted to pursue and eventually started my own band.

CP When did you start playing guitar?

BV I was 12 years old, way back in 1987 — there you go — I just gave away my age (laughing).

CP Where do you see your music going?

BV I envision more vocals but basically keeping it in the same direction but moving forward if that makes any sense.

CP Thanks for joining us today Bryan.

BV My pleasure, look forward to the next time!
We welcome your comments and feedback
Craig Pady
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report
Craig Pady works as a music producer for film & television and also produces and hosts What is Hip? Radio on CIUT 89.5FM.

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